Tag:Brian Westbrook
Posted on: January 10, 2009 10:42 pm
Edited on: January 11, 2009 12:36 am

Big Blue Gearing Up at the Meadowlands

Is "overconfidence" a requirement to be a fan?

   Coach preps his men for battle, Friday 1/9.

If there was one game on the NFL playoff schedule for this weekend that most of us would have put in the books, it was the Cardinals and Panthers. The Panthers are the more balanced offensive team. They have the secondary to keep up with the Arizona receivers that Altlanta didn't. Arizona's defense is small and weak against the run. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Edgerrin James and Tim Hightower won't be able to run... blah blah, blah bla blah.

I'm sitting here watching the closing seconds tick away in Charlotte. It's 33-13. Soon the players & coaches will be shaking hands, giving interviews or heading toward the locker rooms. Except for Jake Delhomme, who'll be heading directly for the parking lot, car keys in hand. He'll probably drive home with his helmet still on. I don't think of the Ravens beating the Titans earlier as an upset. It's an upset as far as seedings go, but in reality you could see that one coming; you might have almost expected it.

But Arizona? Wow...

I can honestly say - with a straight face - that I've never, ever had a feeling of overconfidence about the Giants prior to a playoff game. I've been confident in their ability, readiness and determination. It's a confidence that is born from trust, and if you're a Giants fan right now you're lucky enough to be able to trust these coaches and players when looking at ability, readiness and determination. But I'm never confident they'll win the game - in my way of thinking, that's overconfidence. There's enough evidence in the trash talking you'll find in threads, sports bars, at work, or just about anywhere opposing team jerseys meet up that support the notion - beyond a shadow of a doubt - that the sentiments expressed by many fans are simply an expectation of complete and utter dominance of the enemy.

Overconfidence and expectation. If you're a fan of an NFL team you can live without it, and will be better off for doing so. If you have it, you must have both - you can't have one without the other. And as a fan of an NFL team myself,  I'll never understand how another fan of any NFL team can have it.

I'm certainly not a paranoid or pessimistic fan. You know those folks, don't you? The one's that always prepare for the worst possible scenario. In fact, I'm pretty laid back about the whole thing... until I hear the pregame scene set from the announcing team. That's when the butterflies wake up and I lose my hearing when the wife and kids come in and ask me if I want to join them for a board game. I say "GIANTS!" and they get the hint. Once the game begins though, I'm fine. The kickoff is a shot of sedative. I strap in and enjoy the ride. By the way, the announcers for tomorrow are Joe Buck and Troy Aikman - the booth will just be glowing with personality, insight and entertainment...

I wonder what was going through Tom Coughlin's mind as he walked on the grass in an empty stadium as his players stretched, warmed up and ran light drills yesterday afternoon? I wonder about what's going on in his head as he gears his team up for this event? Whatever he's thinking, I'm sure he - and his players - are ready. When I give in and resign myself to the fact that the team is confident, it makes it easier for me to sleep tonight. Not because I "know" they'll win (because I don't), but because they'll give it everything they've got. And what they've got is a real team - in the truest sense of the word.

I expect defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to go with a lot of nickel and dime packages, so that a safety or corner can shadow RB Brian Westbrook instead of Antonio Pierce. Pierce is not quick enough, and the secondary will provide the necessary speed and open field tackling ability you need to contain Westbrook. I expect Brandon Jacobs will be healthier than we've seen him over the last month, and running with more determination and power. I expect Eli Manning to manage the game well and make a few big plays when necessary. That's all I expect.

But I'll never expect to win the game. And I'm confident that it will be a good one, because they always are between these two teams.  


Posted on: December 7, 2008 8:09 pm
Edited on: December 8, 2008 12:17 am

RECAP: Eagles 20, Giants 14

Twisting in the Wind

Powerless defense. Indefensible drops. Westbrook. 

Big Blue wins the NFC East title.

"The pessimist complains about the wind;
the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails."

William Arthur Ward

Was it the wind, that at times reached 40mph gusts? Perhaps it was the distractions and interruptions of the past week, and maybe Tom Coughlin just didn't have the ability (or strength) to get his troops focused enough for a football game this afternoon. Or maybe the Eagles just played extremely well today; perhaps Andy Reid's crew was better prepared than Coughlin's. In reality, it was a little bit of everything - the Giants had an opportunity to wrap up the NFC east and secure a first-round bye in the playoffs with a victory over the Eagles this afternoon, but the Giants and their fans were left twisting in the wind as the Eagles monopolized the clock by almost 10 minutes and piled on the yardage much more than the 20-14 final score can possibly convey. The Giants were 3-11 on 3rd down conversions, and 0-3 on 4th down conversions. They went for it on 4th down in the first quarter, and they went for it on 4th down in the last quarter. There's one word to characterize the Giants today... "uncharacteristic".

There is a lot more than the final score that the Giants will be concerned about following today's game, the least of which is whether or not this group of receivers will be able to carry on without #17. Brandon Jacobs left the game midway through the 3rd quarter after appearing to twist his ankle as he was tackled by DT Brodrick Bunkley, and the normally stout defensive line - while able to pressure Donovan McNabb early in the game - was manhandled by Jon Runyan and the rest of the Eagles' offensive line on almost every play in the second half.

The most telling part of this game is the fact that the Giants - who've made a living by controlling the game clock and overall tempo - did not have a drive more than 5:34 the entire game. And that drive ended in a blocked field goal on a brilliant play by DE Trent Cole, who literally placed his hands on the backs of two Giants lineman and leapfrogged over them - had enough time to get his footing and leaped straight up in front of John Carney's 47-yard attempt.

The most (and only) positive moment of the game came with 4 seconds left in the first half. Philadelphia was lining up for a 31-yard field goal in hopes of going up 13-0, but Justin Tuck knocked it out of the air and CB Kevin Dockery scooped it up and ran it back 71 yards for the Giants first score of the game. It seemed that all the momentum had shifted from one sideline to the other at that point. It seemed that way. It wasn't.  

Eli Manning had a rough day to say the least; to say the most, Manning did everything he was supposed to do and got nothing for his efforts. Manning's numbers look putrid - 13 of 27 for 123 yards and a touchdown. It should be mentioned that Eli was 6 for 6 with his only TD on the Giants last drive of the game; prior to that, Manning was 7 of 21 for 66 yards. The tone was set early in the game, as Manning was not at all in sync with primary target Domenik Hixon. A crushing blow that the team never recovered from occurred at the start of the 2nd quarter. On 1st and 10, Manning dropped back and heaved a beautiful spiral from his own 8-yard line that sailed 55 yards right into the arms of Hixon. Unfortunately, Hixon - who had about 5 yards of separation on the cornerback - misjudged it and the ball shot right through his arms and onto the turf. A sure touchdown opportunity was gone with the... nope, not gonna say it... and the Giants were back to their own 15-yard line, 2nd and 10. That's when the 'dropsies' virus began spreading like wildfire to the rest of the receivers; Fullback Madison Hedgecock's stone hands were back on display just  four plays later as he let a high but catchable ball slip through his grasp on a screen play that left nothing but open field ahead of him. Later on, Steve Smith dropped a bullet right on the numbers that would have resulted in a much needed 3rd down conversion. 

Eli isn't absolved of any wrongdoing. As both time and opportunities were slipping away in the second half, Manning made an ill-advised pass deep down the middle of the field as he was being rushed that would have been picked off by Brian Dawkins were it not for his collision with a fellow teammate. At the 9:35 mark in the fourth quarter - when the Giants were down 17-7 - they went for it with a passing play on 4th and 1 at the Philadelphia 38. Manning stepped up in the pocket to avoid the blitz and had an opening to run straight ahead. Had he done just that, he would have picked up the first down and then some. Eli got a little case of "happy feet" and pulled up before hitting the line of scrimmage and threw a short pass to Sinorice Moss that fell incomplete.

The Giants' offense seemed to be a tale of two game plans; in the early going they were very confident and loose - almost too lose. Kevin Gilbride called for a double reverse to Mario Manningham on the fifth play of their first drive that not only seemed out of place, but resulted in a 12-yard loss. The deep pass incompletion to Hixon seemed to mark the end of that game plan, and the start of the more conservative approach Giants fans have been accustomed to. The problem was that Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Johnson had an answer for everything the Giants tried to do. Linebackers Stewart Bradley and Akeem Jordan combined for 13 tackles on the day, and swarmed the middle in taking away both the outside run and the short passing game. D-backs Asante Samuel, Dawkins and Quintin Mikell were all over the Giants receivers. There were a few instances where Manning had no choice but to muscle the ball into Hixon's gut, despite being draped, because there were no other options open. It was impossible to tell if Kevin Gilbride had actually made adjustments at the half, because they never really had an opportunity to show us - the opportunities they did have, they squandered.

The story of  the game was the Eagles' #36. The Giants defense came out strong in the first quarter, and appeared to be getting plenty of pressure on Donovan McNabb. As was the case in their first meeting in week 10, Brian Westbrook found very little room to run. But by the 2nd quarter, Westbrook's 2-yard runs were becoming 5-yard runs; and once Westbrook got his legs moving there was no stopping him. Westbrook finished the day with 131 yards on the ground, 72 receiving yards and two touchdowns. To give you an idea on how much the Eagles offense dominated the Giants, Westbrook gained 203 total yards; the Giants gained 211. Westbrook has always been a Giants killer, and he looked nothing like the guy they held to under 30 yards in Philly; today he looked 100% healthy. To get back to halftime adjustments, whatever it was Steve Spagnuolo tried to put in place to keep "22 eyes on #36" (as he was quoted saying) in the second half , it was even less effective than what he did in the first half. The fact that the Giants defense was on the field for all but 3 minutes of the third quarter had everything to do with the outcome of this game. Philadelphia started the 3rd quarter with a seven-minute drive that ended with Akers' second blocked field goal of the game, but when the Giants gave it back to them a little over three minutes later, McNabb knocked another six minutes of the clock and rammed a 40-yard Brian Westbrook TD pass down their throats. It didn't matter that the 4th quarter has just gotten underway... the game was over.

It was their own fault; as I stated earlier, Philadelphia converted on just about every third down situation in the second half, and the Giants were inneffective in wrapping up players and preventing yards after first contact. With his outstanding performance today, Westbrook surpassed the great Harold Carmichael to become the Eagles' all-time leader in yardage from scrimmage.

Donovan McNabb must also be creditied for a solid game, as he held his ground in the pocket as long as he could and still managed to complete his passes - or bolt to the outside when no one was open and hurt the Giants with his legs, five times scrambling for decent yardage (three times on 3rd down to move the chains and keep the clock ticking).

As I type up this recap, the Cowboys are in a battle with the Steelers, just over my right shoulder. All I hear is "ball comes loose..."  and either "Steelers recover" or "Cowboys ball" - lots of turnovers. And... Tony Romo has just turned it over for the fourth time...  Deshea Townsend runs it in for the score...the Giants win the NFC East, which I'm happy about.  At least something positive to end this day.

All this and three blocked field goals.

That damn wind!



Notes and Commentary: CONFIDENCE - where it is, and were it isn't... 

CONFIDENT: Despite their terrible performance today, I'm confident that these Giants receivers are capable of producing; there's been too many positives this year out of Steve Smith and Domenik Hixon to think that today was anything more than a bump in the road. There's been a lot of distractions in the past week, and it obviously played a part in the outcome. You never want to see easy passes dropped, but this is nothng new for Eli Manning. Neither is playing without #17, and the loss in Cleveland showed that this offense can bounce back from poor outings. Under the leadership of veteran Amani Toomer, these receivers are going to be OK.

CONFIDENT: The defense was not prepared for the Eagles today. It's very unlike them to be caught off guard, but Steve Spagnuolo has been able to regroup before, so there's no reason to think he won't have them ready for Dallas next week. having said that, there's got to be concern over the Antonio Pierce situation...

NOT CONFIDENT: Antonio Pierce is playing this up as if everything is fine, and that there's nothing taking his focus way from football. After watching him and the rest of the defense today, I wouldn't necessarily agree. It may be unfair to lay everything on Antonio, but he was not on his game today and was surprised to see that he led the team with 12 tackles. Pierce seemed to commit himself way too often one way or another while shadowing Brian Westbrook, especially on the touchdown pass; Westbrook broke out of a cluster of bodies behind the line of scrimmage and turned to face McNabb. Pierce started to break toward him, but Westbrook slipped a little to the outside and caught Pierce out of position. Westbrook caught the ball and ran right past pierce for the TD. I'm curios to know if anyone else thought that Chase Blackburn should have taken over for him at some point in the second half? He just seemed out of it.

NOT CONFIDENT: The latest word is that Brandon Jacobs' knee injury isn't that serious. While that's great news, my first thought was - "Really? He limped off the field and stood on the sidelines for the rest of the game, but it's not serious... If wasn't serious, why didn't he get back out there ? And if it was even a little serious, why wasn't he in with the trainers getting it worked on, or resting it?" 

Jacobs left the Ravens game after one quarter with a knee injury; He sat out the Cardinals game, then returned for the Redskins game last week. He left today's game... the running game relies on two things - the offensive line and the consistency of its three moving parts. The last thing the Giants need to worry about is Brandon Jacobs' durability.


stats source: sportsline.com

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com